Writing has always been how I express things best. I don’t have the oration skills to be a speaker, or the training to express emotions through music. The past few days, as we entered Passover and Easter week, my mind has been drawn to how I can share what I’m thinking. On Sunday, my housemate gave a lesson at Church on the gathering of Israel, and an hour earlier in Sacrament meeting, a member of our bishopric asked the congregation to focus on Christ, and on Easter specifically, this week in preparation for our testimony meeting next Sunday. My friend Dain (remember her?) just wrote a fantastic post on sending in her papers and waiting for her call. With my mind bouncing between different ideas and topics, it’s been hard to sit down, clear my mind, and figure out exactly what I want to say.
Because I’m so close to receiving my mission call, mission work is obviously on my mind. In all honesty, it’s at times the only thing on my mind. I realized today while talking to my dear housemate Katie about the last week of the Savior’s life what I was meant to share. So here it goes.
One of my favorite stories in the New Testament is found in the final chapter of John. Simon Peter, along with his brother Andrew, Zebedee’s sons (James and John), Thomas, Nathaniel of Cana, and 2 other disciples, returned after Christ’s resurrection to their boats. They have been fishing – with no luck, mind you – upon the sea where they likely were casting their nets the first time they met Christ. I wonder if that day three years before weighed upon their minds as they returned to the sea of Galilee, fishing no longer for souls.
A voice from the shore echoed over the water, advising the disciples to cast their nets to the other side of the boat. The fish that they then caught resulted in their inability to pull the nets aboard. With what I’m sure is astonishment, John turned to Simon Peter and said, “it is the Lord.” Simon Peter wasted no time in swimming ashore – in fact, he left his fellows behind him to sail back – to return to the man who had called him from the sea in the first place years before.
After they had eaten, Christ turns to Simon Peter and posed to him a question he surely never forgot til the end of his life: Lovest thou me? Simon Peter answered in the affirmative, but Christ asked him this twice more, ending each time with the charge, “Feed my sheep.”
Feed my sheep. This charge has always struck a chord in my heart. When you feed sheep, they move towards you, because they trust and rely on you to care for them and to guide them to safety. Some people might not be so pleased to be compared to an animal that is smelly and looks quite ugly after it’s been sheared, but that isn’t the point. The point is that someone cares enough to bring them in from the cold, to care and nurture them, and in the event of a stray, to head out into the dark to find them and bring them home. Throughout the scriptures, there is imagery and symbolism in sheep and lambs, all of it pointing towards the love of Jesus Christ.
Last General Conference, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland gave a talk called “The First Great Commandment.” He narrated this intimate story of the exchange between Christ and Simon Peter, which I definitely recommend. He elaborates (non-scripturally), and imagines what Christ may have said. As Elder Holland spoke in his deliberate, piercing voice, I couldn’t help but feel as though I was the one he was speaking to:
What I need, [insert name here], are disciples—and I need them forever. I need someone to feed my sheep and save my lambs. I need someone to preach my gospel and defend my faith. I need someone who loves me, truly, truly loves me, and loves what our Father in Heaven has commissioned me to do. Ours is not a feeble message. It is not a fleeting task. It is not hapless; it is not hopeless; it is not to be consigned to the ash heap of history. It is the work of Almighty God, and it is to change the world. So, Peter, for the second and presumably the last time, I am asking you to leave all this and to go teach and testify, labor and serve loyally…
Christ needs worthy disciples to follow Him and help Him to gather His sheep back into the fold. Some do not yet know that they have strayed, some have wandered far from the path, and still others are lost and searching. This is where the gathering of Israel comes in. Alone, we are rather weak beings – we can’t make it on our own. Gathered in together, Israel (meaning the children of the Lord – everyone) is incredibly strong.
We are inherently called to care for one another, for indeed, we have been called to be our brother’s keeper. Denominational belief aside, as children of our Heavenly Father we are called upon to uplift, strengthen, and guide each other away from the darkness, back into the fold. Israel in this sense transcends the country, it refers to the children of the Lord as they are gathered in and on their way home to their Father.
I have had teachers and friends tell of their experiences in traveling to Israel, specifically Jerusalem. Because I have never walked the streets that Christ walked, nor visited the temples, gardens, and mountains of the Holy Land, Israel has a different meaning to me. Somehow, in my mind, it has always translated into a sense of home. Home because it is a center of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Home because it is the birthplace of a faith that is so ingrained into my soul, I scarce can imagine my own existence without it.
Last week here at Southern Virginia, the students, faculty, and community had the opportunity to listen to Dr. Camille Fronk Olson (the department chair of ancient scripture at BYU) speak on women of antiquity. While I enjoyed listening to her, and learned a lot, what has stuck with me are the words of our university president, Paul K. Sybrowsky, as he introduced her to the student body. He advised us to listen carefully, as we would one day have a need for what she taught as we traveled to Israel. I think his introduction was forgotten by many, but with the way I think of Israel in my head, it has stuck with me.
I sit and think of the fishermen-turned-disciples, of Israel, and of Jesus Christ. Easter transcends the decorations and customs we have attached to it. The chocolate bunnies and jelly beans are all good and well, I like them as much as the next person, but Easter is about something bigger. It’s about the Son of God giving up His life so that we, darkened by sin, could be washed clean and live. He died so that we, as children of Israel, could be gathered in once more.
Isaiah 53 is a dear passage of scripture to me. The pages of that chapter in my scripture are worn from the press of the tip of a pen and the constant smoothing of the page as I read. Verse 6 reads,
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Every single time that I read this chapter, it hits me. Hard. Because we have strayed, because we listen to ourselves and not our Lord, Christ suffered not only on the cross at Calvary, but in the garden at Gethsemane, and in the streets of the city of Jerusalem. He was scorned, mocked, and beaten. He was humiliated in his agony. His mother knelt at the foot of the cross where he was crucified, along with his faithful disciples and followers, surely distraught as Romans and Jews alike took their turn.
All of this not because of us, but for us. Individually.
He died because of His love for us. Simon Peter and his brethren left the shores of Galilee and labored with the Messiah because of their love for Him. Israel is gathered because Heavenly Father loves His children. We act as under-shepherds, with Christ as our guide, because we love them both.
This is what Easter is. It’s a day to remember that He suffered so that we did not have to. It’s about love. It’s about change.
It’s about turning lowly fishermen into shepherds.